There’s a new LGBTI-inclusive cabaret bar in town and over the weekend some 500 members of the community flocked to the centre of Luton to celebrate its launch and enjoy performances from top artistes, including transgender singer and Voice semi-finalist, Jordan Gray, muslim drag queen, Asifa Lahore, and drag king Adam All.
Fridays’ launch, at the Cali Bar in Chapel St is the culmination of a project by Luton-based businesswoman, Tina Haynes, thought to be the UK’s only trans woman owner of a one-time gay bar.
The venue is a LGBTI-centric cabaret club which will put on live acts on a regular basis, as well as themed nights and cash competitions . It s very much aimed at the whole community as well as all other friendly and supportive people.
While the Cali Bar will respect its roots, Tina is keen to ‘tune up’ the trans angle. She says: ‘This is going to be a place where trans people can come and enjoy themselves alongside others in the LGBTI community. Our focus is very much on inclusivity.’
She adds: ‘When I I took it over the Cali Bar was a typical 1980’s gay bar, with dark walls, black ceilings loud music. My aim was to turn it into a much more contemporary experience for the whole LGBTI community.
‘We’ve got rid of the black and purple and replaced it with pinks and greys. Sofas where people can chill out, as well as space for dancing.’
She is equally upbeat about the future of gay bars: ‘During the recession, the conventional straight scene has been hit for six, but the pink pound is still strong. That’s a new development and one that businesses need to take into account more widely.’
Tina is this year celebrating 25 years of transition. The journey has not always been easy, but, she tells us, she now feels totally happy in her own skin, and this has helped enable her to launch the new venture.
She says: ‘This is a celebration of diversity and acceptance as well as a happy ending to the many years of unhappiness I experienced growing up when these things were taboo.
‘The fact that three of the biggest names on the UK LGBTI scene are supporting us is a testament to the tectonic change in attitudes we have now.’
The launch acts were equally supportive of Tina’s venture.
Speaking about the venture, Jordan said: ‘I love seeing the positivity of new projects being pioneered by trans proprietors and I always want to be a part of new things so I’m doubly happy to be a part of this.’
Asifa said: ‘It’s an honor to perform at the launch of the Cali Bar. Luton is a melting pot of multiculturalism and a thriving LGBTI community.
‘As Britain’s first out Muslim drag queen, it’s a privilege to use my role to entertain, unite and bring together all Luton’s diversity at the Cali Bar.’
And Adam added: ‘In the last few years we have faced the loss of several of our most treasured bars and clubs to gentrification. It’s always a pleasure to see a new bar blossoming, to be invited to perform at its launch is a gift.
‘I’m very excited to see how the Cali bar will develop, and it feels like a step in the right direction for LGBTI nightlife.’
Tina will also be supporting Mermaids, a charity which works with and supports young people and families affected by gender identity issues.